Printing in iOS 4.2: Now We Know

Now we know how printing will work in iOS 4.2.

At the Apple Event on September 1, Steve Jobs focused on new iPods. However, he also made mention of the forthcoming iOS 4.2 (due out in November), especially noting that it would support wireless printing via a Print Center app. Beyond that, he offered no details as to how exactly it might work.

This, of course, led to speculation among the Mac media regarding the different possibilities.

One faction suggested that needed printer drivers would be downloaded to the iPhone on demand, similar to how things work in Mac OS X. You could then print to any driver-matched printer on the Wi-Fi network to which your iOS device was connected. I thought that this was an unlikely solution, as the size of driver software is quite large — and could quickly lead to iOS devices (especially 8GB ones) running out of free space.

A second possibility was that printing would work only via printers that have the needed driver software built-in. The prime example here is Hewlett-Packard’s line of ePrint enabled printers. This would be a fine solution except that it would severely limit the range of printers that an iOS device could access.

A third possibility was that there would be no true direct iOS device-to-printer printing. Rather, you would print to printers accessible via Printer Sharing on a Mac. This would allow for the widest range of printer compatibility but has the downside of requiring that a Mac (or PC) be active and accessible as an intermediary between the iOS device and the printer. If your Mac is asleep, for example, you can’t print.

Today, Apple posted a press release that offered details as to how the new AirPrint feature would work in iOS 4.2 — largely resolving the debate among these three alternatives. So…which of the three options turned out to be correct?

The answer is two answers: iOS 4.2 will use both the second and third methods.

Devices running iOS 4.2 will be able to directly print to “HP Photosmart, Officejet, Officejet Pro and LaserJet Pro series ePrint enabled printers.” Apparently, this includes some HP printers not yet on the market — as I could not find reference to ePrint versions of all of these printers on the HP site.

In addition, “iOS 4.2 devices can print to printers shared through a Mac or a PC.”

The one thing that you won’t need to do to print from an iOS device is download printer software to the device.

A beta version of the iOS 4.2 software is available right now, but only for members of Apple’s iOS developer program. Developers report that, for printer sharing via a Mac, an update to Mac OS X 10.6.5 (currently in beta) is also required.

If you are an iOS developer, you’ll want to get the new “Drawing and Printing Guide for iOS.” It contains complete details on how printing will work, including screenshots of the new Print Center app in action.

One oddity: The press release states that printing will work with “iPad, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS and iPod touch (second generation and later).” Based on what I have seen thus far, the printing feature requires multitasking — but multi-tasking is not available on the second generation iPod touch. Is this an error in the press release?

Update: Yes, the press release is in error. According to an iOS Developer page (login may be required): “Printing is available only on iOS devices that support multitasking.” The iPod touch 2nd generation is not listed as compatible.

This entry was posted in Apple Inc, General, iPhone, Mac, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.